Flipping the Writing Experience

Yesterday, I attended the Ohio Writing Project’s fall conference, where teachers who receive their MAT from Miami University present their research.  As I was listening to Matt Glover, the keynote speaker, talk about how seldom students are given choice of genre in a writing workshop classroom, I started to see connections between the flip and the workshop.

If one considers the flip to be mini lessons, watched outside of class, then applied in the classroom, then the connection to the flip is obvious. For those who don’t know what the workshop is like, the teacher uses mentor texts to demonstrate a writing technique, teaches a mini lesson about that technique, and asks students to create examples. So making the mini lesson a video that students view on their own seems a natural part of the “video” flipped classroom.

But as I have learned more about how others see the point of flipping the classroom, my viewpoint on the flip has evolved. I have begun to see that student centered learning does not have to be watching videos at home. Instead, it might be giving students the opportunity to choose how they show you they have learned an objective.

Allowing students choice of genre to show what they have learned is moving towards mastery learning. I still fear this concept. How does one show mastery in an ELA classroom? But the concept of genre choice is one small way I might be able to achieve that goal. Here’s an example of genre choice:

During the conference, one teacher was discussing the topic of argumentative writing. She had us pick a color that resonated with us, and then gave us a paper that explained the psychology of that color. Then we were to read the paper and decide if we agreed or disagreed with the description of the color. We could use any genre to demonstrate whether or not we agreed. Some teachers planned a speech, others an essay. This is what I wrote:

Deep Blue
The ocean’s heart
the midnight sky,
the jaunty new pair of jeans,
defy the conservative,
reject the authority,
free the soul.
The ocean betrays,
the moonless sky chills,
and the jeans sit back,
with a smirk,
telling the world that
deep blue is NOT traditional.

Dragging the Sage off the Stage

We all want our students to learn. No one stays in teaching for years desiring to see students fail. In fact, many of us try desperately to reach all our students.  Like the stage manager, terrified the actors will forget their lines, rip their costumes, or fall off the stage, we charge about our classroom, trying to ensure all students learn what we envision is vital to education.

But the stage manager must let go on opening night.  The actors must be allowed to perform the play they worked so hard to perfect. This week, the stage manager let go a little of control and allowed some actors to take center stage.

I had created a video over the weekend that discussed some literary devices in our summer reading novel, All But My Life. I had been meaning to do a follow up video, covering some more of the literary devices, when I stopped. Why was i making all the videos? Why couldn’t my students help? So I dismantled my plans and made a list of tasks that I wanted my advanced students to complete that week. Writing, speaking, acquiring vocabulary, almost all my big hitters were present.

This week, my class discovered some basic truths, much like actors discover during a dress rehearsal.

We discovered that asking 5 students to create a video on an app they’ve never used before takes more than 50 minutes.

We discovered that setting discrete deadlines for tasks is important, because some students procrastinate.

We discovered that flexibility and problem solving is really important, because sometimes the technology doesn’t work.

Flipping your classroom is not about making teacher videos for homework. It is about empowering students to take charge of their own learning. Leave the stage to the actors on opening night, but make sure that the lights are on, the curtains are open, the mics are live, and the popcorn is hot.

From competition to collaboration

They start out my morning. Twenty two bright faces. They posted the required question to the required google form, or emailed me their problems, late last night. A handful show up to ask for a pass to watch last  night’s video assignment. Let it be said–they care about their grades.

But do they care about learning? The other day, I asked them to either read their silent reading book, a choice memoir, or to laminate their Writer’s Notebook. A scant handful was diligently reading a book, but the rest were talking. I broke out Class Dojo, which is a classroom management app I had introduced a few days before, and started noting which students were on task. All of a sudden, books were pulled out and more students began to read. If points were involved, suddenly they cared about doing what I asked.

On my favorite twitter chat, #flipclass, (Monday EST), we had a discussion about #pointsprostitution. It was mentioned that driven students seem to care more about “how many points is this worth?” rather than “what can I learn by doing this assignment?”

I want my college prep students to have student choice and be driven by learning, rather than points, but I am fighting nine years of training. Nine school years where they performed to get the A, not to learn the material.

One ray of hope–after reading Flipping 2.0, an amazing book that I recommend to anyone trying to flip their class, I went from a teacher driven video that showed literary devices in the beginning of their summer reading memoir All But My Life by Gerda Kline, to student created videos. Each group is creating a video that demonstrates one literary device. Once they’ve created their videos, I will post some links in this blog. They’ll be using Touchcast, a wonderful free app that I have used to create my flip class videos. (If you’re curious, you can check out my latest video via this link: http://www.touchcast.com/kr_ela)

Onward, in the quest for student centered collaboration!